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sunset over namsan in seoul korea

If you’ve never lived through a Seoul summer, count yourself lucky. In my books, there are few things on earth WORSE than the months of July and August on the peninsula.

It’s definitely NOT the best time to visit Seoul, yet this is EXACTLY when the hordes choose to descend on the ROK. I don’t know who you are, but I think you might need to rethink your plans. Just saying.

Summer in Seoul: what to expect

Summer in Seoul lasts for about 3 months, from June to August. June is hot and a little sticky, but pretty tolerable. By July though, you can count on scorching heat, monsoon rains, humidity as high as 100% WITHOUT rain, polluted skies and what seems like an extra 10 million people wandering around the city. Pretty much the stuff of nightmares if you ask me. This torture lasts through August (minus the monsoon rains), and ends pretty dramatically almost as soon as September hits.

I admit that my preferred method of surviving a sticky summer in Seoul is to leave the country, ideally to a Mediterranean country with gorgeous beaches and good food.

lefkada greece beaches

I’d take this over the monsoon any day.

But since summering in Europe isn’t often in the cards, mostly I have to resort to the following well-worn strategies. It’s that, or never leaving the air-conditioned comfort of my house… which unfortunately, isn’t really an option.

Here’s how Seoulites survive the absolute worst 2 weather months of the year.

Hide from the Seoul summer temperature

In the Seoul summer months, at intersections, you’ll often see a huge group of people huddled under the tiny patch of shade afforded by a tree. I used to scoff at these people, and march defiantly past them into the sunshine, but I’ve learned my lesson. Oh, have I learned my lesson.

Find the shade wherever you can. A tree. The book you’re holding in your hand. Your purse. Basically anything you can use to create shelter. Because if you don’t, the summer temperature and humidity in Seoul will have you dripping sweat in seconds. And no, I’m not exaggerating even a little bit.

Get a personal mini-fan (*it must have ears)

A few years ago, personal handheld fans became all the rage in Seoul. You literally could not walk half a block without running into someone carrying one. My run-ins with these people would immediately be followed by insane bouts of jealousy and the undeniable urge to rip the fan out of their hands to use myself. Kidding, not kidding.

Hello Kitty personal fan

Hellooo Kitty

I finally jumped on the bandwagon and got myself my daughter, a rechargeable pink handheld Hello Kitty fan. It’s particularly useful in subway stations, where there’s no ac or airflow. You can buy these pretty much everywhere you turn in Seoul in the summer months, and they’re not expensive. Don’t hesitate.

Eat all the Bingsu

Bingsu, along with naengmyun, are 2 things I just couldn’t wrap my head around until I moved to Korea. Let’s face it. This common Korean dessert looks kinda weird. In its classic form – patbingsu – it’s shaved ice, topped with a gooey mess of boiled red beans.

patbingsu

The most classic form of bingsu is patbingsu

Despite having lived here for almost a decade now, I still rarely hop on board the sweetened red bean train. It’s just not my thing. Gladly however, bingsu has evolved, and now you can get melon bingsu, strawberry bingsu, snow bingsu, coffee bingsu, mango bingsu – you name it, you can probably get it.

My personal favourite is injeolmi bingsu. This milk ice topped with Korean rice cakes and roasted soybean powder, admittedly also looks and sounds weird. But it’s actually totally delicious and completely refreshing, with bonus points for being nutritious too!

Be sure to try it when the Seoul summer temperature and humidity really starts to get to you. Bingsu is pretty much the ideal Korean dessert for surviving a Seoul summer. It’s even better than ice cream, in my opinion.

Walk along Cheonggyecheon Stream (청계천)

If you’re among the tourist hordes visiting Seoul on summer vacation, you’ll undoubtedly end up in Jongno-gu exploring Korea’s Chosun dynasty palaces, Insadong or the Bukchon hanok village.

When you’re desperate for a slightly more refreshing spot to snap that all important hanbok selfie, mop the sweat off your brow and head to nearby Cheonggyecheon Stream. It’s an average of 3.6°C COOLER than other parts of Seoul, due to the flowing water and natural environment.

Cheonggyecheon stream seoul korea

Cheonggyecheon Stream is almost 4 degrees cooler than the rest of Seoul.

Lounge by an outdoor pool

Dipping into a cool body of water seems like the most natural solution for an insanely hot Seoul summer, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, public pools are seriously lacking for a city this massive. However, there are a few options available to you, depending on your budget and needs.

gwanghwamun square fountain seoul korea

You might have to resort to a fountain to cool off during a Seoul summer

Outdoor swimming pools near the Han River

There are 8 outdoor swimming pools located next to the Han River in Seoul. They can be found across the city at Ttukseom, Yeouido, Gwangnaru, Mangwon, Jamwon, Jamsil, Nanji, and Yanghwa Parks. Usually open from the end of June until the end of August, facilities differ from park to park.

Most have multiple pools to be used by different age groups, waterslides, play areas, showers, change rooms and food stalls. Keep in mind that you’ll need to wear some kind of swim cap or head covering to enter the pools.

In my experience, these pools are usually overrun with families on weekends, and are best avoided. Google “ttukseom pool” and you’ll see exactly what I mean. If however, you can swing by on weekdays or off-peak hours, it’s a totally relaxing and affordable way to cool down. Kids under 5 enter free!

Exclusive hotel pools

As soon as summer hits Seoul, all I dream about is booking myself a staycation in a luxury hotel… mainly because they’re some of the only places in the city with outdoor pools. If you’ve got a little extra cash and you’re looking for a more exclusive vibe, I’d definitely recommend booking one.

If privacy’s what you’re after, the most exclusive (and expensive) of these has got to be the Banyan Tree Club and Spa. ONLY overnight guests and members of the Club can use their stunning Oasis Pool. Book a room here.

The Grand Hyatt is probably one of the best known hotels in Korea. It’s where Barack Obama chose to stay on his last visit here! You can enjoy gorgeous views of the city, while lounging next to their Olympic-sized outdoor pool on a blazing hot Seoul summer afternoon.

Shilla Seoul’s outdoor pool is called “Urban Island.” It has heated pools, jacuzzis, cabanas and sunbeds on offer, as well as excellent views of the N Seoul Tower.

Hotel pools open to the public

The outdoor pool at the Hamilton Hotel is one of the only ones you can access without actually being a guest. It’s located right in the middle of Itaewon – the expat hub of Seoul. On weekdays, it costs 15,000 won. On weekends, admission is 20,000 won. It’s super popular though, and you’re sure to find a great mix of people from all over the world enjoying the party atmosphere and music. Be warned – it’s definitely more of an adult vibe, and anyone under 19 will not be admitted.

views of Itaewon at sunset

Itaewon is the expat hub of Seoul

For a more family-friendly pool experience, check out W Seoul, or the Sheraton Grande Walkerhill. These two hotels share an outdoor space called the RiverPark. There, you’ll find two kiddie size pools, an adult pool and outdoor jacuzzis to relax in.

Forget the heat at the Daegu Chimak Festival (대구치맥페스티벌)

Chimaek or fried chicken and beer might be the most perfect meal combo ever invented. On a steamy summer day in Seoul, super crispy K-style fried chicken washed down with an icy cold beer is pretty damn satisfying. I’m not really a drinker, but I always make an exception for chimak.

korean fried chicken and beer

Fried chicken and beer the Korean way by Korea.net / Korean Culture and Information Service [CC BY-SA 2.0]

Chimaek is so popular in Korea that it even has it’s very own summer festival that draws over 1 million visitors to Daegu – a city known to be even HOTTER than Seoul.

Don’t mistake this event for just a food festival though. It’s more like a huge party with K-pop performers, events, a “beach,” amusement area and of course, places to eat chimak. Running this year from July 17th – 21st, be sure to take public transportation to the event venue, and remember to bring ID. You won’t get served without it.

I recommend booking an all-inclusive package in advance that includes your festival ticket, admission to the K-pop concert, round trip transport and even chicken and beer on the train to whet your appetite. It’ll make your trip super easy, and stress-free… especially if you indulge a bit too much in the beer portion of the chimak.

korea temple

You can check out more of Daegu and the surrounding area if you stay overnight

If you’d like to stay overnight in Daegu instead, book a hotel near Duryu Park so you’ll be walking distance from the festival grounds.

You can check out: Oh369 Motel – an affordable motel 10 minutes walk from the festival grounds, or Hotel Ondo, which is 800 metres from Duryu Park, and a 10 minute walk from Daegu e-World.

Combat the heat with an army of cold soups

Growing up in Calgary, where it sometimes snows in June, and the air is so dry, your skin feels like it’s cracking, my mom’s craving for noodles drenched in cold broth was impossible to understand. But boy do I get it now.

On days where the humidity is through the roof, the only thing that’ll do is mul naengmyeon (물냉면). These thin noodles are usually made from a combination of buckwheat and potato flours, and served in an icy broth topped with slices of daikon radish, cucumber and egg.

naengmyun and grilled meat at yooksam naengmyun

I’ve tried various and more expensive versions of mul naengmyeon, but nothing refreshes me from the inside out as much as Yookssam Naengmyun’s (육쌈냉면) cheap and tangy version. Served along with a portion of grilled meat, it runs just 6,000krw.

Don’t worry if 물냉면 isn’t your thing though. There’s a literal army of cold Korean soups and stews to suit your fancy. Try kongguksu (콩국수), a dish that owes its white colour to blended boiled soy beans, or chogye guksu (초계국수) – an icy and refreshing chicken noodle soup.

Fight fire with fire (이열치열)

The day that I eat a hot, spicy soup during a Seoul summer is the day hell freezes over. But that’s not true of all Koreans. Many believe that the best way to fight the summer heat and humidity in Korea is with something equally as hot.

This tactic of “fighting fire with fire,” or iyeol chiyeol (이열치열) is based on an idea from traditional Korean medicine, believing that in hot weather, body heat or gi, rises to the surface and disperses, leaving the inner organs cold. Lost heat needs to be replenished by eating hot foods, with rejuvenating ingredients like ginseng, jujubes and omija.

grilled eel and side dishes in korea

Grilled eel is a classic iyeol chiyeol food to eat

Classic iyeol chiyeol foods include samgyetang – a whole young boiled chicken in a nutritious broth, nakji bokkeum – octopus stir-fried in a super spicy sauce, jangeo – bbq eel, and yukgaejang – a spicy beef and vegetable soup. Try eating one of these fortifying dishes when summer in Seoul really starts to wear you down.

Visit the beaches in Korea

The best and perhaps most classic way to survive a summer in Seoul is to take a break next to the sea. And while the beaches in Korea don’t have the vibrant culture of the Mediterranean, a weekend out of the city, lounging around on sandy beaches and dipping into the cool sea when necessary is sure to rejuvenate all that ails you.

Add in some shellfish grilled over charcoal and a spicy pot of hameul-tang (seafood stew) and you’ve got your iyeol chiyeol (이열치열) covered too!

There are beaches on all 3 sides of the country, but for an easy and manageable break out of Seoul, head out to the East Coast, where Korea’s best (arguably) beaches are located. Our favourite is Gyeongpodae – a mere 2.5 hours away by bus. Check out our full post about it here.

Do you have any tips for surviving a Seoul summer? Share them in the comments below.

Did you find this post about summer in Seoul helpful? PIN IT!

Summer in Seoul, Korea is no joke. The monsoon rains, super high humidity and soaring temperatures make visiting during summer a challenge. Learn all the tricks locals use to survive a Seoul summer.

Comments:

  • July 19, 2017

    well. i have to say i HATE this sort of weather. Although it’s worse I think when no rain comes.

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    • July 24, 2017

      It’s just insane here…crazy buildup of humidity and then a few hours of rain to clear it somewhat and then the humidity builds up again. You literally start sweating the moment you move. Can’t wait till it’s over. 🙁

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  • July 19, 2017

    This is my life now also. Every morning I walk outside with my dog, and the heat and humidity smack me in the face, surrounding me like a hot, wet blanket. My weather app looks like yours, with clouds and lightning bolts in a straight line for 7 days in a row. The good thing here, though, is that the storms usually last about an hour max and then the sun comes beaming our again. That’s good for my spirits but so bad for the humidity! My biggest weapon is something I never thought I’d have and it’s the most wonderful thing in the world: a pool!

    I was in Seoul last August when you were gone, and I can attest to the brutal heat and humidity there – right on par with Houston for sure – but you have the added burden of crowds and pollution. 🙁 Hang in there! At least yours will disappear when fall arrives!

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    • July 24, 2017

      Ahh last summer…how I’m missing the blue skies of Europe. 🙁 Actually this year is the worst year that I’ve ever experienced here. It’s been grey skies, rain and crazy humidity for almost a month now.

      Heat I can handle…it’s the humidity that’s really getting to me. Oh, you’re so lucky to have a pool! It makes such a difference to be able to dip into the water at will. And I’m jealous of your sunshine. I can’t even remember what the sun looks like anymore. 🙁

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  • July 20, 2017

    Wow, that’s even worse than central NC. Atleast we don’t have the pollution. But I do spend most of my time indoors with the AC, or in my AC car.

    On the shade thing, I’ve noticed in southern Europe you can always tell the people who live in cold climates – they’re eating lunch out in the sun. People from hot places, like me, these days, are in the shade. I was on a Hurtigruten boat in Norway recently, on a hot, sunny day (yes, even in Norway!) everyone on the boat was sitting out in the sun, except for me and a couple from Singapore.

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    • July 24, 2017

      Staying in AC IS really the only way to truly cope. Here, the humidity is so intense, you start sweating the second you make a move. 🙁 Haha, you’re so right about people who come from hot, humid climates…we’re always hiding in the shade.

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  • July 20, 2017

    Oh my god I appreciate the sentiment behind this so much, but…. this just doesn’t work! You had the right idea because you combat this by 1)leaving the country! and 2) buying an aircon! I don’t have one this summer. I refuse to buy one now because the prices are so crazy, but man I am so close to just shoving my stance back where the sun don’t shine (where it’s cool probably) and just buy one. IT’S SO HOT and MUGGY and STICKY! I have several fans going at the same time and yes it’s glorious when the rotation reaches me but when it passes me by I am back in still humid box of suffering.

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    • July 24, 2017

      Haha I admit it you’re right…but I’m just talking about survival, not enjoying it, cuz obviously that’s impossible. 🙁 Is this year worse than any other year, or is it just me? We spent all of last summer in Europe, and boy am I missing those days big time this year. I have vowed to NEVER spend another summer in Seoul. It is just so incredibly unpleasant. But um…I think we need to have a discussion about this lack of an air conditioner. How are you surviving?? Our is on pretty much 24/7 and it’s STILL muggy in the house sometimes. :((((((

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  • July 22, 2017

    Actually, I do all the things on your list, including eating/ drinking both hot and cold beverages! Lately though, i’ve been having my Chai tea lattes and Green tea lattes iced. Talking of shade, I brought a parasol with me from Europe, and here, I find it the only place I can use it without getting stared at. Finally, I love mul nengmyun and papingsu!!! Yum!!! Nice write-up!

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    • July 24, 2017

      I was never a big iced coffee person, but this incredibly humid summer has me turning to the cold lattes on more than one occasion. I never thought I would be one to carry a parasol around…but I think here you’re really justified in having one. It’s just so insanely hot when you’re under the full glare of the sun.

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  • July 22, 2017

    I agree with the Bingsu! It’s one of the best things in Korea. However, I’m not a fan of Naengmyeon. It feels weird to eat cold noodles. Anyway, 육쌈냉면 is really a good restaurant. I often eat Bibimbap there. It’s very affordable and delicious!

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    • July 24, 2017

      I always thought it was strange to eat cold noodles too, but Korean summer convinced me to try them, and now I really enjoy them. Sometimes its the only thing that refreshes me completely.

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  • wrpalomo

    July 24, 2017

    Hot and sticky! Those define our days here in Seoul these days and they aren’t pleasant. And my boys still go to soccer class and I have to be a soccer mom out there. Imagine that! I just have to chill this out until end of September and there’s the glorious Fall colors to look forward to!

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    • July 25, 2017

      For me it’s not just the humidity, but the never-ending grey. It really gets to me. 🙁 But we are headed to Spain in just a few weeks, so I just have to get through a little while longer. At least we have sun today, right?? 🙂

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  • July 25, 2017

    Man, I do not miss Seoul’s summer, but I do miss 빙수 and 냉면, I loved 비빔냉면 and would even eat it in winter ??? like you, I love the peanut 빙수 the most but my boyfriend hates it so we’d always get another flavour. I’m in Mexico now and just found out there is a Pequeño Seoul in Mexico City! Definitely going to check it out!!

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    • July 25, 2017

      Oooh, I can’t eat 비빔냉면… I’ve tried, but it’s just too spicy for me. You must have serious spice tolerance. Haha, I always win in the bingsu flavour wars with hubby. Fortunately, he doesn’t enjoy it THAT much, so he always lets me pick – doesn’t stop him from eating most of it before I’ve even started though. 😉 Wow! Korean in Mexico City – def curious about how that is?!

      reply...
  • July 25, 2017

    Great tips, Shelley! I like the idea of 이열치열, and usually choose 떡볶이 as my dish to do so, but I do love 닭갈비 as well.

    Still, 물냉면 is my favorite way to beat the summer heat… I just wish they served it year-round! I’ve tried to order it in the winter before, and usually just get a confused look.

    Reading this post makes me glad I live in Pohang, where it’s a little bit cooler (on average) than in Seoul. Thanks for the write-up!

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    • July 25, 2017

      Every time the heat and humidity hit the city, all I can think about is escaping, usually to a coastal location. In fact, we’re plotting a last minute escape this weekend. Pohang is on the coast right? I think I’ve driven through there a few times, and eaten some 대게there. It’s famous for that I think. Any nice beaches around there?

      reply...
  • July 25, 2017

    Thanks for the link love! I am hating this humidity. The sweat is everywhere. Madness. I definitely need more patbingsus in my belly asap!

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    • July 28, 2017

      Hopefully we’ll get a break from the humidity in Jeju…but so far, the forecast says rain. 🙁 Let’s hope it’s wrong…

      reply...
  • July 25, 2017

    haha…I loved your post! Shells you missed last year’s summer. It was TERRIBLE! I somehow feel it’s much cooler this year. Probably because of the brief spells of rain. Haven’t eaten bingsu in a while or cold noodles. Evenings are much cooler and that’s when I choose to get out. ?

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    • August 25, 2017

      So slow on my comment replying…but the terrible weather seems to have finally passed us by now. It’ll be perfect by the time you get back from Mongolia!

      reply...
  • July 26, 2017

    Bingsoo and nnengmyun! Couldn’t agree with you more! I love eating the icy buckwheat soups on a hot day and I think those are one of the standout things about Korea in that they have cold soups in their culture! I guess there’s gazpacho for western countries, but I loved Korean summers just so nnengmyun would be that much more refreshing 🙂

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    • August 25, 2017

      Not sure how I missed replying to this, but ANYWAYS – naengmyun has definitely become a bit of an obsession since experiencing a Seoul summer – but I think that if it wasn’t so damn hot and sticky here, I’d never eat a cold soup ever. It just seems so wrong and weird to me. Why eat soup when you can eat ice cream!!? 😉

      reply...
  • Sha

    August 12, 2017

    A bit late to this but I couldn’t resist adding on.

    Seoul summer is definitely not fun. I went there once and oh boy, I felt like I was back home. So I feel you about the humidity. The way Singaporeans handle it though, is to disappear into a mall. Which is why there are so many malls here really. I especially love those malls that are connected to subways. I can spend my whole day there without stepping out to walk to the subway. Best way to stay away from humidity. 🙂

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    • August 23, 2017

      I think this was the worst summer on record for humidity…I really suffered in a way I never have before, and sometimes the only solution was to go to the mall. I sure spent a lot of time in malls this summer ?

      reply...
  • Sha

    August 23, 2017

    Haha, thank god for malls!! 😉

    reply...

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